Since coming to America as a 2-year-old, Animar
Daghestani was content to let others make decisions about how to run his
new country. But when the United States invaded Iraq, the 29-year-old
school teacher did something he never did before: He registered to vote.

Daghestani also plunged into politics himself this year, nearly winning a
seat as a county committeeman and vowing to try again next time.

“A lot of Muslims are starting to get political because of Iraq and what’s
going on overseas,” he said. “They’re starting to wake up and realize we
need to get another president in here and stop the war.”

As the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks approaches,
Muslims and Arab-Americans in New Jersey and across the country are
becoming more politically involved. They are running for office, raising
money for their favored candidates, forming political action committees and
registering to vote.

“This is the silver lining to 9/11, the Patriot Act and the mass
detentions,” said Aref Assaf, a Palestinian activist from Denville. “It has
pushed us to be proactive and take a stand, to be part of the political
process. Now they’re realizing that America’s politics is about numbers:
dollars you donate to your favorite candidates, or votes you can generate
for them.”

Most foreign-born Muslims traditionally focused on events in their
homeland, even decades after settling in America.

“But after 9/11, everyone learned that civil rights and domestic policies
are just as important,” said Ghassan Shabaneh, who teaches political
science at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. “From that moment
on, they saw it.”

More than 1,200 men, mainly Arab and south Asian Muslims, were taken into
custody by the government as part of the investigation into the attacks on
the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Virtually all were held on immigration
charges, typically for overstaying a student or tourist visa, and only a
handful were charged with serious crimes


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